Over the past couple months, the WWE seems to have enacted a new talent initiative, as a number of NXT Wrestling's top stars have been called up to the main roster. It is still extremely early in their respective WWE tenures, but all of them have the potential to be major players for years to come.
The most hyped newcomers have been the three members of The Shield. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns made an instant impact, as they interfered in the main event at Survivor Series by attacking Ryback and putting him through the announce table. They have continued to wreak havoc ever since.
Brad Maddox debuted more anonymously as a referee, but it didn't take long for him to stand out either. During the WWE Championship match between CM Punk and Ryback at Hell in a Cell, Maddox hit Ryback with a low blow and helped Punk retain. Over the past month, he has constantly tried to get a contract as a WWE superstar.
The most recent call-up is current NXT Champion Big E Langston. While the freakish physical specimen has yet to wrestle an official WWE match, he burst onto the scene by taking out John Cena on consecutive nights and has been serving in a bodyguard role for Dolph Ziggler and A.J. Lee.
All five of the WWE's newest superstars have made their presence felt up to this point, and all of them can have a ton of success. With that said, here are my predictions for how each of them will fare moving forward.
Although he may be the most impressive rookie from a physical standpoint, I rank Big E Langston last in terms of his future outlook. It's obvious that the WWE has supreme confidence in him based on the fact that he took the NXT Wrestling Championship off Seth Rollins, but excelling in developmental and excelling in the WWE are two different things.
Langston has been compared to Mark Henry by many, and the parallels are obvious. Henry came from a powerlifting background and managed to carve out a great career for himself in professional wrestling, and Langston is trying to do the same. It's important to remember that Henry didn't become a world champion until the ripe old age of 40, however.
That obviously doesn't necessarily mean anything to Langston, but it goes to show that the WWE has struggled to properly utilize characters similar to Langston in the past. Langston does have more natural athleticism than Henry and seems like he is more able to put on a great match, so the youngster has that working in his favor.
Langston hasn't been asked to do much in the WWE yet, as he has essentially stood around with a blank look on his face and attacked when called upon. Because of that, he hasn't been quite as impressive as his counterparts thus far. Langston is simply doing what he's told, but he hasn't showcased any semblance of personality yet.
Perhaps he's oozing with personality and just waiting to show it, but I'm not that optimistic. He seems one-dimensional and reminds me of a lesser version of Ryback. That could be viewed as a good thing since Ryback has gotten over in a big way, but when it comes to big, musclebound guys, Langston is pretty far down the totem pole right now.
There is no doubt that Langston has potential, but I don't ever see him reaching world title status in the WWE.
When The Shield debuted at Survivor Series, most wrestling fans viewed the group as Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and "some other guy." That "other guy" is Roman Reigns, and he has quickly found a way to carve out his own niche within The Shield while differentiating himself from Ambrose and Rollins. Reigns has been so impressive that there is a growing legion of fans that believes he can be the stable's breakout star.
That would be a tall order for Reigns when you consider just how talented Ambrose and Rollins are, but it isn't outside the realm of possibility. Since The Shield is a group intent on stopping injustice in the WWE, they have done tons of group attacks and haven't stood out as individuals yet. That setting has been great for Reigns, as he has had the opportunity to showcase his power and intensity.
In addition to Reigns' impressive look and strength, he has the bloodlines to succeed in the business. He is part of the famed Anoa'i family and is related to the likes of The Rock, Rikishi, Yokozuna, The Usos and many others. That alone obviously doesn't guarantee him anything, but he has a lot of people at his disposal who can teach him some valuable things.
The big question mark with Reigns, as is also the case with Big E Langston, is his personality. Since Reigns is a no-nonsense heel in a three-man stable, personality hasn't mattered much yet. He has been protected fairly well and has only had to speak on occasion, so The Shield has been ideal for him, as he can ease into the WWE.
Reigns will inevitably go off on his own one day, however, and at that point, he'll have to bring something other than power to the table. I can see him being similar to Kane in some ways, as he appears to be a capable in-ring worker for a big man, but even Kane has embraced the entertainment aspect of the WWE, so Reigns has to become better rounded at some point.
Reigns' potential is obvious, and I'm not willing to write him off when it comes to being a future world champion, but until he shows me that he isn't a one-trick pony, I can't put him any higher than No. 4 on this list.
When it comes to pure in-ring work, there is no question that Seth Rollins is the guy to watch among the five rookies moving forward. Rollins already had a massive fan following when he signed a developmental deal with the WWE in 2010 because of his success in Ring of Honor as Tyler Black. It should come as no surprise that his popularity has already translated to the WWE.
All three members of The Shield are good in their own ways, but Rollins is the most polished among them. ROH may not be on the same scale as WWE, but it is considered a major promotion, and Rollins held the world title there. On top of that, he was the FCW Champion and the NXT Champion, so the feeling among the WWE brass seems to be that he's a big-time star in the making.
The key for Rollins will be finding the role that works best for him. He has been great in The Shield thus far, but his current character is a departure from what he has been in the past. He has excelled as both a heel and a face, so he figures to be able to adapt to his surroundings in the WWE. Whether that comes as a fan favorite or as a hated bad guy remains to be seen.
For fans who aren't familiar with Rollins' past, he has probably looked like the least impressive Shield member to this point. He is the smallest and doesn't look as sinister as Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose do. Also, one complaint about him is that he doesn't have a "main-event voice." That is something that many said about Dolph Ziggler as well, though, and he's now on the verge of becoming a top star.
The good thing about Rollins is that the absolute worst he can do is become a serviceable mid-carder and Intercontinental or United States Champion. The WWE always needs mid-card depth, so he'll be useful moving forward. If everything comes together for him and he finds the right character, however, a world title run is possible.
Because of the way he was introduced, Brad Maddox hasn't been talked up quite as much as The Shield and Big E Langston thus far. Maddox's build has been much slower and more methodical, so it seems like fans are still waiting for a payoff. If the WWE manages to handle Maddox well and has a definite direction for him, then he definitely has the ability to be the best of the rookie crop.
Maddox's development has been interesting to say the least, as he was first introduced as a referee. He did get involved in a storyline quickly, as he missed CM Punk's foot on the rope during a tag-team match and subsequently took a great deal of abuse for that, but he went back to being a normal referee for the next several weeks. Everything changed when he helped Punk defeat Ryback at Hell in a Cell, though.
Since then, Maddox has been on a quest to become a WWE superstar, and he has lost a number of matches to the likes of Ryback, Randy Orton, Sheamus and others. Despite his repeated failures, he continues to beg for another chance. The fact that he has basically been made to look like a jobber seems to be masking his potential, but it's obvious to me that he exudes it.
His backstage segments with Vickie Guerrero, Booker T and Teddy Long are always entertaining and his promo style is fantastic. He is very different from what we normally see in the WWE, but his cocky, arrogant attitude is perfect for a heel of his stature. He may not be as physically impressive or as highly touted as the other four rookies who have been called up from NXT, but Maddox is definitely unique.
Maddox also appears to have some type of involvement with Punk and Paul Heyman. Maddox and Heyman had a talk before Maddox faced Ryback and they interacted once again on Monday. Heyman told Maddox to leave him alone, but I have to believe that it was a front and it will ultimately lead to something much bigger.
If Maddox continues to run with Punk and Heyman, then it's nearly impossible for him not to be successful. Naysayers will doubt him because of his size, but professional wrestling isn't necessarily a big man's sport anymore. Based on his charisma alone, Maddox can be huge in the WWE.
Every rookie mentioned previously on this list is fantastic in an aspect or two, but all of them also have drawbacks that could prevent them from becoming main-eventers.
One man who has no such limitations, though, is Dean Ambrose. Although it has never been said officially, Ambrose is the de facto leader of The Shield, as he does most of the talking and always seems to carry himself as the superior when they're carrying out attacks. That type of dominant personality almost guarantees that Ambrose will thrive.
Ambrose comes from fairly humble beginnings when compared to his counterparts, as he has really had to work his way up the ladder through promotions such as the Heartland Wrestling Association, Combat Zone Wrestling and Dragon Gate USA. Ambrose has had to scratch and claw every step of the way, but every time he grabs onto the next rung, he is better prepared to conquer it and move on to the next one.
Ambrose truly has it all, which is a prerequisite in wrestling today. It isn't enough to only be good in ring or to only be good on the mic. The top stars in the WWE have to be versatile and capable of excelling in several different areas. That is why the likes of CM Punk, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan rule the day. I have no doubt that Ambrose is the next name that will enter into that elite group in the coming years.
While no member of The Shield has gotten a ton of mic time, Ambrose has carried the load and knocked it out of the park every time he has been called upon. His demeanor is almost psychotic, and that sets him apart from a lot of the heels who are currently in the company. There are already a million arrogant heels out there, but there aren't many who come off as being mentally unstable and dangerous like Ambrose does.
Essentially everything Ambrose does, right down to his facial expressions and movements, is effective. The WWE is always looking for someone who is unique and different from the norm, and Ambrose is exactly that. He already has a great fan following and has thrived at every level, so the WWE won't be any different in that regard.
Whenever The Shield ultimately dissolves, Ambrose will likely be ready for the main event immediately, and it wouldn't shock me at all if he is in title contention at some point in 2013.